California couple takes a make leap of faith to an Arkansas dairy goat operation
DURHAM, ARK. – Faith. Family. Farm. That is the order in which Scott and Tessa McCormick prioritize their lives. The McCormicks own and operate White River Creamery, a goat dairy in Northwest Arkansas.
The dairy specializes in artisan cheeses and holds the distinction of being the only certified cheesemaker in Arkansas and the only end producing goat dairy in the state.
“Having a dairy and making cheese was never in our plans,” Tessa stated.
Scott and Tessa were teachers in California, teaching math and science at a charter school. They had spent 10 years building their dream home by hand. They had three daughters, Amber, Caily and Emily. At 35, Tessa suffered heart failure and learned she had a neuromuscular disorder. Trying to find answers to her medical issues prompted them to seek an appointment at the Mayo Clinic, in Phoenix, Ariz. The week before the appointment their home caught fire.
“We prayed about what to do. We thought about putting the trip on hold but felt like we were being led to go anyway.” Tessa said. “It did not make logical sense to us, so we just kept praying about it.”
During the trip, they decided to visit friends in Arkansas and while driving down the road, Tessa said she heard a loud, audible voice telling her “Move here!”
“It felt like we were standing on a cliff, looking out at all this fog below us and knowing that we had to step off that cliff in faith,” she said.
In 2011, they bought 13 acres erected two yurts for the family to live in, and began building a dairy barn. They purchased a herd of registered Nigerian Dwarf goats from Vermont.
“There is not a Sears and Roebucks for dairy goat herds,” Tessa said. “You must either buy a herd that is being reduced, or buy show goats. If you buy cheap goats, you will have problems.”
The herd they bought contained American Dairy Goat Association champions with superior genetics and were top milk producers. While in Vermont, Scott trained at the Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheese and completed the basic and advance cheese making course, earning him certification for making soft cheeses. He trained under Master French and Spanish cheesemakers. The dairy passed its final inspection and was fully operational in 2013.
Tessa explained that Nigerian Dwarf goat milk is ideal for cheesemaking.
“It is rich, sweet, creamy and it last longer than other types of milk,” she explained.
The milk has a higher butterfat content, allowing it to yield more cheese. One gallon of Nigerian Dwarf milk yields up to 3 pounds of cheese whereas 1 gallon of cow milk yields approximately 1 pound of cheese. Because they are a creamery, they use cow milk and goat milk for a larger assortment of products.
The herd consist of 32 milking does, four bucks and 40 babies. They milk once a day, the babies remain with the mothers until weaned which saves cost, labor, and reduces stress. All animals are pasture raised with supplemental grain feeding; grain equates to milk and reducing grain initiates scheduled drying off times for does. The smaller herd allows for better management of over health and nutrition; they can monitor each animal daily. They only give antibiotics as needed, and copper boluses are given for parasite control in the spring and fall. Milking females get Ivermectin prior to kidding and the babies get preventative coccidiosis treatments.
White River Creamery provides local farmstands, farmers markets, restaurants, and grocery stores with products that are hand delivered weekly. They offer 25 cheese variations, the most popular is the garlic chive fromage. Fancy cheeses such as Caillou Noir, Camembert, Haloumi, Sainte Maure, Hatch cheddar, feta and mozzarella are customer favorites.
They produce a variety of lotions and soaps at the dairy. However, one soap, Zebra Soap, is special. The product serves as a platform for the education of neurological disorders. They donate the proceeds from sales to the Chiari & Syringomyelia Foundation (CFS), for the advancement of knowledge through research and education of these, and other related disorders.
As a final takeaway Tessa wanted to say, “Trust in God’s plan, if he closes one door, he will guide your footsteps. We trusted him first, our family was our second focus and then we were blessed with a beautiful plot of land in the Ozarks to farm.”